It’s as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning; the mainstream media jumping on fan indiscretions at A-League matches and running the now customary soccer fan thuggery stories.
Those headlines appeared in the usual media outlets – Herald Sun, 3AW, etc – following the Melbourne derby in which 170 seats were wrecked by Melbourne Heart and Victory fans in addition to the throwing of banned flares.
The Herald Sun headline screamed: “Police slam fans after soccer derby leaves trail of destruction” – one of countless articles to appear after similar incidents over the years.
Whether the negative headlines were justified is up for debate. While on the one hand the idiotic behaviour of a small few continues to cast a shadow over a whole supporter base, the proportion of negative coverage the A-League gets over other codes seems to be higher (drunken behaviour at cricket, for example, is rarely reported as intently).
It’s an easy target given the established stereotypes of ‘soccer hooligans’ and perhaps there is an element of knocking the other football code by media outlets with vested interest in its winter alternative.
Take, for example, 3AW presenter Tom Elliot, who justified the violence like this: “The fact is, soccer is a dull, boring game. It is the only thing that explains why such bad behaviour doesn’t happen at AFL or NRL matches.”
But this victimisation should in no way excuse nor encourage the behaviour of some A-League active supporters. It’s their actions that inspire and provide an excuse for the aforementioned media outlets to run the same old headlines.
Without the flares and bottle and chair throwing, there would be no story.
So sure, the media may overplay what’s going on in the stands. But deprive them of the excuse and the headlines would inevitably disappear or the media become more desperate to seek a negative A-League story.
Changing perceptions can only start with the A-League supporters who seem to be inspired by European ‘ultra’ tactics.
The Melbourne and Sydney derbies are now the A-League’s non-finals showpiece events, producing atmosphere the like of which is rare in Australia and is the equivalent of Europe’s best leagues.
But because of the chair and flare throwing antics, the game wastes the opportunity for those events to help the A-League penetrate into the Australian mainstream consciousness.
So while on the one hand huge advances are being made – few leagues around the world can boast 40,000-plus crowds – the fans involved in poor behaviour simply assist the media to kick the game hard.
So, to the active supporters out there, behave. Sing, dance, chant, cheer, make banners, boo the opposition and so forth. This sort of atmosphere is what differentiates football from other codes and will help attract new fans and keep them coming, therefore helping the A-League to grow in stature.
But don’t resort to the flares, violence, chair throwing, racist chants and so forth. They don’t add anything to the fan experience and only fuel the negative headlines.
Maybe then the media will back off and stop sending journalists and photographers to cover any crowd troubles, which they do, and stadium security will ease off.
The choice is yours. If you’re really sick of the media victimization, then leave the chairs where they belong.